County helping to determine new use for former academy

Published 12:34 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Isle of Wight County is looking for input on what to do with 24 acres of private land previously used as a campus for the now-defunct James River Christian Academy.

The county was recently awarded a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for $3,000, which it will use to fund a market analysis and feasibility study to help determine the best future use for the property, according to Economic Development Director Tom Elder.

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The land, which is located along Benn’s Church Boulevard, was purchased this past spring by JVC Holdings LLC, a corporate investment and development company owned by Vincent Carollo, who is also the owner of Anna’s Ristorante in Smithfield. Carollo said that the property, formerly owned by the First Church Ministries in Newport News, had been on his company’s radar for a while since the Christian school closed down in the summer of 2008.

The county applied for the grant in January, according to Elder. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“We had been meeting with the potential owner of that site, and he had some plans for it but didn’t really know what to do with the bulk of the school facility,” Elder said of the county’s reason for applying for the CDBG, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Elder said he couldn’t speak to whether the county had ever offered this type of service to other private landowners before.

“It’s not necessarily for a private owner, it’s as much for our use so that we can have some input in the use for what the facility is,” Elder said. “I think it would be a joint decision between the property owner and the county as to what use and what uses would be on that site.”

Only a municipality can apply for the federal grant, Elder said.

“It’s a planning issue, what to do with the former school facilities,” he said.

Carollo said it was Isle of Wight Planning and Zoning Director Amy Ring who first brought to his attention the potential of the site.

Ring had been working in the Department of Economic Development at the time when she said Carollo first approached the county with questions about potentially purchasing the property, which is common for property owners considering big investments within the county, according to Ring.

“They’re just doing their due diligence,” she said of property owners approaching the county. After bouncing ideas back and forth, the county began looking at potential grants, according to Ring.

There are two school buildings on the property and a sizeable gymnasium toward the back that has fallen into a bit of disrepair, according to Carollo. Southside Vineyard Community Church currently has an office in one of the facilities on the property.

Elder said the county is in partnership with the owner of the land, but was not 100 percent sure whether a written agreement between the county and Carollo existed at this point.

“It would be up to the owner to develop whatever the decision made is,” Elder said.

Carollo also characterized the plans for the property as a public-private partnership between him and the county, and added that an official written agreement with the county might be down the road, but it’s still early in the partnership.

“Hopefully things will come out favorable for all people involved, from the county down to the developer, myself,” Carollo said.

One idea the county has floated is to develop the facilities as a “business incubator,” a facility where small businesses can rent and share space until, ideally, they grow out of it and upgrade to a larger office elsewhere, according to Elder.

“We’re open to any other ideas as well,” Elder said.

Carollo said he supports the county’s idea for a business incubator at the facilities, but added that when it comes to developing, “you want to get as much opinion as you possibly can and go from there.”

When the feasibility study is completed, the county is still eligible for another $12,000 in grant funds for studying the property, according to a press release from the Department of Economic Development.

The county will host an open house at the property Thursday, Aug. 24 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

“That is to encourage the public to come in, take a look at the facilities that we’re discussing and walk the site,” Elder said.

A subsequent meeting will be held that same evening at Sentara St. Luke’s from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the public to voice their thoughts on what would be the best future use for the facility.  {/mprestriction}